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The Homecoming of American College Women: The Reversal of the College Gender Gap

  • Claudia Goldin
  • Lawrence F. Katz
  • Ilyana Kuziemko

Women are currently the majority of U.S. college students and of those receiving a bachelor's degree, but were 39 percent of undergraduates in 1960. We use three longitudinal data sets of high school graduates in 1957, 1972, and 1992 to understand the narrowing of the gender gap in college and its reversal. From 1972 to 1992 high school girls narrowed the gap with boys in math and science course taking and in achievement test scores. These variables, which we term the proximate determinants, can account for 30 to 60 percent of the relative increase in women's college completion rate. Behind these changes were several others: the future work expectations of young women increased greatly between 1968 and 1979 and the age at first marriage for college graduate women rose by 2.5 years in the 1970s, allowing them to be more serious students. The reversal of the college gender gap, rather than just its elimination, was due in part to the persistence of behavioral and developmental differences between males and females.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.20.4.133
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 20 (2006)
Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
Pages: 133-156

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:20:y:2006:i:4:p:133-156
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.20.4.133
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  1. Jacob, Brian A., 2002. "Where the boys aren't: non-cognitive skills, returns to school and the gender gap in higher education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 21(6), pages 589-598, December.
  2. Marcus Stanley, 2003. "College Education And The Midcentury Gi Bills," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(2), pages 671-708, May.
  3. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Ming-Ching Luoh, 2002. "Gender Differences in Completed Schooling," NBER Working Papers 9028, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Brian A. Jacob, 2002. "Where the boys aren't: Non-cognitive skills, returns to school and the gender gap in higher education," NBER Working Papers 8964, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. John Bound & Sarah Turner, 2002. "Going to War and Going to College: Did World War II and the G.I. Bill Increase Educational Attainment for Returning Veterans?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 784-815, October.
  6. Goldin, Claudia, 1998. "America's Graduation from High School: The Evolution and Spread of Secondary Schooling in the Twentieth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(02), pages 345-374, June.
  7. Heinrich Hock, 2007. "The Pill and the College Attainment of American Women and Men," Working Papers wp2007_10_01, Department of Economics, Florida State University.
  8. Thomas Lemieux & David Card, 2001. "Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 97-102, May.
  9. Claudia Goldin, 2005. "From the valley to the summit: a brief history of the quiet revolution that transformed women's work," Regional Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Q 1, pages 5-12.
  10. Janet Currie & Enrico Moretti, 2003. "Mother'S Education And The Intergenerational Transmission Of Human Capital: Evidence From College Openings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1495-1532, November.
  11. Katz, Lawrence & Goldin, Claudia, 2002. "The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions," Scholarly Articles 2624453, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  12. Raquel Fernández & Alessandra Fogli & Claudia Olivetti, 2004. "Mothers and Sons: Preference Formation and Female Labor Force Dynamics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(4), pages 1249-1299, November.
  13. Christopher Dougherty, 2005. "Why Are the Returns to Schooling Higher for Women than for Men?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(4), pages 969-988.
  14. Thomas Diprete & Claudia Buchmann, 2006. "Gender-specific trends in the value of education and the emerging gender gap in college completion," Demography, Springer, vol. 43(1), pages 1-24, February.
  15. Martha J Bailey, 2006. "More Power to the Pill: The Impact of Contraceptive Freedom on Women's Life Cycle Labor Supply," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(1), pages 289-320, 02.
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